A Freemason is a man who is a member of the fraternity of Freemasons. The earliest Freemasons were the medieval freestone mason who built the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. Today, the fraternity builds its edifices in the hearts of men. There are several theories about the origin of the name:
1.) Early operative Freemasons worked in freestone, a type of quarry stone.
Early Freemasons were free men, and not serfs or indentured servants. So they were free to travel about, from one country to the next.
2.) Lodges of Masons that were employed in the erection of cathedrals, monasteries or preceptories were given a franchise by the church which freed them from government control or taxation. The term franchise, in French, gave rise to the term "franc-macon."
3.) Also, Masons call each other "Brother," and in French, the term "Frere Macon," meaning "Brother Mason," gave way to the term "Freemason." It is more likely that all these origins contributed to the acceptance of the term "Freemason."
During the 17th century, the fraternity began to accept non-operative, honorary members, who learned and passed on the traditions and moral code of the fraternity for the betterment of mankind. Today, Freemasonry is an entirely speculative fraternity, having left its operative origins in the past.
There are other misconceptions about the fraternity, which you may read about. The Freemasons do not claim to have their origins among the builders of the pyramids of Egypt. This is an unsubstantiated myth. Undoubtedly, the builders of the pyramids were stonemasons, because the pyramids are built of stone. But there is no evidence that the organization of stonemasons of Ancient Egypt descended down to the Freemasons of 18th-century Europe.
It is true that you must be a Freemason to join the Shriners, but this rule has been challenged in recent years, and, although the rule still stands, it can be changed in coming years.
It is a myth that all lodges descend or "derive from a dinner between four existing lodges" which met at the Goose & Gridiron Alehouse in St. Paul's Churchyard in London on June 24, 1717 (not 1715). Although a meeting was held that day, and although those four lodges did form what they called a "Grand Lodge," there are many, many lodges today that descend from the lodges of Scotland and Ireland, and do not descend from that Grand Lodge formed in London in 1717. Freemasons lodges, practicing ceremonies of initiation, for which we have written records, date back to the very late 1500s and early 1600s in Scotland, a century before the silk-stockinged, upper-class "gentleman Masons" of London gathered at the Goose & Gridiron Alehouse in London and separated themselves from the middle-class Masons across town. They had political purposes, and wanted to distance themselves from those lodges with Scottish and Irish members who might be sympathetic with the Stewart Royal family. That Grand Lodge of 1717 was derisively referred to as "the Moderns' Grand Lodge" and was surpassed in numbers of members and lodges by the early 19th century when it was virtually swallowed by the Ancients Grand Lodge, which had been formed by lodges that had never been a part of the Moderns Grand Lodge. On the North American continent, Moderns lodges had all but disappeared by the beginning of the American Revolution, and were replaced by lodges of the Ancients variety. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, for example, descends solely from the Ancients Grand Lodge, and not from the Grand Lodge of 1717.
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